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A CurtainUp Review

"Maybe I always entertain company in a towel. What do you think of that, mister? What you say. . .if I told you. . .I always entertain company in a towel?" — Eva
In Robert Caisley's unsettling but absorbing play, 40-something Alfred Rehm (Michael Irvin Pollard) is a married professor of French literature who has apparently earned a reputation for being "happy all the time, freakishly happy." This evaluation is hurled at him by the very attractive, sexy-by-design 20-something Eva (Susan Maris), who has mostly been busy taunting, teasing, baiting and even insulting him ever since he walked through the open door of his best friend Eduardo's apartment, notable as a home and work space (set design by Jessica Parks) for an artist.

Alfred is the first to arrive for the dinner party to which Alfred's wife is expected shortly. He is soaked to his skin claiming he was drenched by a lunatic driver in a black SUV who laid in wait near a large puddle for a drive-by opportunity. Eva, who has just stepped out of the shower covered only by a large white towel, proceeds to put the nonplussed and clearly uncomfortable Alfred in a defensive position — and it isn't only because she has insisted that he remove his soaked trousers. Despite this predicament, Alfred remains unfettered and happy…to her chagrin.

Things go from bad to worse when the good-looking 60-something Eduardo (Mark Light-Orr) arrives with a bottle of wine. A successful artist, Eduardo is eager to impress his long-time friend with his latest trophy girlfriend with whom he has been living for the past month. I liked the way Light-Orr appears to the bitter end to be blind to Eva's seriously neurotic shortcomings.

The conversation before, during and after dinner becomes no less cryptic, corrosive and especially awkward when Alfred's wife Melinda (a good performance by Wendy Peace) arrives in time to also feel the brunt of Eva's assault on those who appear to be "happy."

It won't be a spoiler to say that Eva's determination to peel away the layers of happiness that she perceives to be a cover-up for sadness, takes a toll on everyone, particularly the audience that must suspend all thought of credibility as the action, under SuzAnne Barabas's abetting direction, becomes increasingly more incredulous, inane, and inscrutable.

The tenacity with which Eva hurls her insults, particularly as they are directed at the mostly stunned Melinda, is almost funny. But they are calculated to create almost tragic results when Alfred is challenged to defend his happiness in the light of an unfulfilled career as a writer and the burden of a daughter afflicted with cerebral palsy.

Pollard is terrific as the composed, soon-to-be-decomposed Alfred whose friendship with Eduardo, marriage to Melinda as well as his self-esteem is pushed beyond the breaking point. I tried to imagine how more effective the very good Maris might possibly be if she gave just a little less of an in-your-face performance. But one would have to see what other actors would do with this outrageous role.

Clearly the playwright (Caisley), a professor of Theatre and Head of the Dramatic Writing Program at the University of Idaho, has as his agenda and theme the lengths to which some people will go to see behind the mask of happiness and to reveal the truth of who we are. Happy does it with a heavy hand and a thick coating of the ridiculous.

Part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere the play will next be produced by the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, California. It has previously been produced at New Theatre, Miami, Florida, and Montana Repertory Theater, Missoula.

By Robert Caisley
Directed by SuzAnne Barabas

Cast: Michael Irvin Pollard (Alfred Rehm), Susan Maris (Eva), Mark Light-Orr (Eduardo), Wendy Peace (Melinda)
Scenic Design & Properties: Jessica Parks
Costume Design; Patricia E. Doherty
Sound Design: Merek Royce Press
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ
(732) 229 - 3166
Tickets: $40.00
Performances: Thursday; Friday at 8pm; Saturdays 3pm & 8pm. Sundays at 2pm
From 05/30/13 Opened 06/01/13 Ends 06/30/13
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 06/08/13
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